Exciting New Treatment for PCOS – Berberine
Guest Post by Lara Briden, ND
The herbal medicine berberine is an exciting new treatment for PCOS. It has recently undergone two clinical trials, with great results.
In the first study , researchers compared berberine to the conventional medication metformin. One hundred women were assigned to three treatment groups: metformin, berberine and placebo. After three months, both the berberine and metformin groups saw improvements in insulin, body weight and testosterone. The berberine group outperformed metformin in reduction of waist circumference and free androgen index.
In the second 2014 study , 150 infertile women with PCOS were assigned to three treatment groups: metformin, berberine and placebo during three months prior to IVF. Both the berberine and metformin groups saw improvements in insulin, glucose, testosterone, and free androgen index. The berberine group achieved more live births had fewer side effects compared to metformin.
What is Berberine?
Berberine is the active constituent of a number of different traditional herbal medicines including the western herb Goldenseal and the Chinese herb Phellodendron. Berberine is an alkaloid compound with a rich yellow color. It has a bitter taste so is best taken as a tablet or capsule.
How does Berberine Help PCOS?
Berberine lowers insulin and glucose in a way similar to the conventional medicine metformin. It up-regulates insulin receptors , and stimulates the uptake of glucose into cells. Berberine also blocks testosterone production by ovarian thecal cells , and has a beneficial effect on gut microbes .
Berberine has some nice side benefits. It reduces anxiety , and is excellent treatment for acne. A recent study found that berberine improved acne by 45% after just 4 weeks of treatment .
Berberine is generally safe and well tolerated, which is why it has long been one of my favorite herbal medicines.
There are a few precautions. You should not take berberine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should be cautious if you take other prescription medication such as antidepressants, beta-blockers or immunosuppressants, because berberine can alter the levels of those medications in your bloodstream. Finally, berberine is antimicrobial and changes the composition of your gut microbes. For this reason, I generally ask my patients to take regular breaks from the herb.
**Update: High quality berberine is now available in the PCOS Diva store!
To learn more about Berberine and other natural treatments for PCOS, read Period Repair Manual.
Lara Briden is a Naturopathic Doctor with a busy women’s health practice in Sydney, Australia. She has a strong science background, and worked as an evolutionary biologist before qualifying as a Naturopathic Doctor from Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto in 1997. Lara is passionate about hormones and health, and has helped thousands of patients with PCOS, endometriosis and many other period problems.
Her book Period Repair Manual is now available. It’s a compilation of ‘what really works’ for PCOS and period health. Lara lives in Sydney with her husband and teenage stepdaughter.
1. Wei W, Zhao H, Wang A, et al. A clinical study on the short-term effect of berberine in comparison to metformin on the metabolic characteristics of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Eur J Endocrinol. 2012;166:99-105. PMID: 22019891
2. An Y1, Sun Z, Zhang Y, et al. The use of berberine for women with polycystic ovary syndrome undergoing IVF treatment. Clin Endocrinol. 2014;80(3):425-31. PMID: 23869585
3. Kong WJ, Zhang H et al. Berberine reduces insulin resistance through protein kinase C-dependent up-regulation of insulin receptor expression. Metabolism. 2009 ;58(1):109-19. PMID: 19059538
4. Zhao L, Li W et al. Berberine reduces insulin resistance induced by dexamethasone in theca cells in vitro. Fertil Steril. 2011 ;95(1):461-3. PMID: 20840879
5. Han J, Lin H, Huang W. Modulating gut microbiota as an anti-diabetic mechanism of berberine. Med Sci Monit. 2011;17(7): 164-167. PMID: 21709646
6. Peng WH, Wu CR et al. Anxiolytic effect of berberine on exploratory activity of the mouse in two experimental anxiety models: interaction with drugs acting at 5-HT receptors. Life Sci. 2004;75(20):2451-62. PMID: 15350820
7. Fouladi RF. Aqueous extract of dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris L. in acne vulgaris, a clinical trial. J Diet Suppl. 2012;9(4):253-61. PMID: 23038982
8. Liu LZ, Cheung SC et al. Berberine modulates insulin signaling transduction in insulin-resistant cells. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010;317(1-2):148-53. PMID: 20036710
How many mg are recommended per day?
It should be the same as what you used for Metformin. A minimum of 400mg to start and a maximum of 1500mg. The higher the dose, the more likely the side effects.
The exact quantity of the herb depends on the concentration of the individual product, but it usually comes in capsules of 500mg berberine extract, which can be taken once or twice daily.
Can you take Berberine while taking Metformin?
No. They both work on correcting your insulin and taking both together can have a negative effect
Should this be taken with Ovasitol? What is the recommended dosage?
It can be combined with other natural treatments. Re: dose, please see Kelley’s question below.
Any suggestions for where we can buy Berberine in tablet or capsule form?
What about the regular breaks? How much time do you recommend on it vs. time off?
I usually prescribe an 8 week course, followed by a month break. Then repeat.
I also ask patients to take only 6 days per week (eg. take one day off each week).
Where can I get this type of medicine ??
I can’t find Berberine by Thorne and Douglas Labs. I found something called Berberine Balance by douglas Labs. Is that it?
I have been diagnosed with PCOS almost 6 yes ago and have been ttc for the entire time. I have an adverse reaction to Metformin so I most recently started taking Berberine. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not but my period this month was extra hard with a lot of clotting. My period has been regular as far as timing and length for the last year, however it came a week early and lasted 13 days but on days 7 and 10 the bleeding stopped completely and started heavily again the next day. Since, I have had a pain on one side that I have not experienced before. I would like to give the supplement a longer try but I’m afraid that it’s the problem. Any suggestions or info on this type of situation?
I recently started taking Berberine from Thorne Labs and have been getting headaches on a daily basis. Is this a normal side effect for Berberine?
If you’re nursing, what could you take instead? I started Ovasitol a week ago but it seems like my cravings for sugar are increasing especially in the middle of the night 🙁
I’m on Yaz for birth control and I’m also taking the natural supplement DIM. Is it safe to take berberine with both of those?